Seeing – and Nurturing – the Genius in our Students

By Rick Ackerly, Guest Blogger

In the foreword to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, writes:

More than ever, America needs the kinds of minds that generate new perspectives, seek solutions, and discover emerging opportunities. Those are the minds of many of the students in your schools today who, at first glance, look a lot like the struggling student I was in school. I invite you to take a second look at the individuals who walk through your school doors. Join us in helping as many kids as possible become more aware of their unique talents and more confident in their learning abilities—and help us rescue the wonderful potential that may otherwise be lost.

 

Slow it down. He said a mouthful, and it is critical that we get all the pieces of this:

  1. The world needs graduates who generate new perspectives, seek solutions, and discover emerging opportunities.
  2. We need all kinds of minds fully functioning and geared into the real world in productive ways.
  3. We need all kinds of minds to be good at different points of view, good problem solvers, curious about and capable of doing something with new opportunities.
  4. Visit any number of schools across the country and it won’t be obvious that the teachers and students are working on this need. It seems they are about other business. If they are struggling, let them be struggling toward the most important outcome. What was that? “Generate new perspectives, seek solutions, and discover emerging opportunities.”
  5. Take a second look at each student. See the genius in them. Notice them in their uniqueness. See that each one has a brain that activates when curious.
  6. Each of us is more powerful when we are aware of, appreciate, and see the power in our unique learning abilities—our unique approach to the world. That is a good definition of “confidence.”
  7. We must stop squandering an enormous amount of human potential.

And speaking of mouthfuls, Schools for All Kinds of Minds is one well worth reading for those of you aspiring to be leaders of learning.

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Rick Ackerly is a nationally recognized educator and speaker with 44 years of experience working in and for schools.  He recently published his first book, The Genius in Children: Bringing Out the Best in Your Child.  Rick’s articles about education and diversity have appeared in Education Week, The New York Times, The Independent School, and Multicultural Education. You can read his short weekly essays on his website.

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Note from All Kinds of Minds:  Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  We’ve already given away two books!  Here’s how it works: Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!  To be entered to win this week, you must (1) subscribe to our blog, and (2) share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  Remember: Non-subscribers are not eligible to win!  Subscribing is easy: just look for the “Email Subscription” box to the right.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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The Boy No One Could See

By Mary-Dean Barringer, CEO of All Kinds of Minds and co-author of Schools for All Kinds of Minds

When writing Schools for All Kinds of Minds, I had multiple insights I wanted to share.  Many of these insights were supported by social science research.  For example, Malcolm Gladwell and Karl Weick show us how “small wins” can be tipping points for change.  And numerous researchers have documented the value of using neuroscience findings to better understand the many moving parts of learning and better understand students.

But some of the book’s insights were based less on research and more on what we’ve learned from our collective experiences as teachers.  Chapter 4, “Digging Deeper: Knowing Students as Learners,” captures one such insight.

Knowing your Students is Vital

In Chapter 4, we urge educators to become “kid watchers” to find those relevant pieces of data that could be life-changing.  I have heard from so many children that they want a teacher in their life that really knows them.  For me, embracing the All Kinds of Minds approach described in the book is a way to demonstrate that you really know a child.  I’m driven by seeing too many kids disappear from the radar screen of teachers or parents. 

I’ve also seen the power of one “small win” change the course of a child’s life.  This is a story from my own family, one that was running through my head during the book’s creation.

Michael: Under the Radar

Michael is part of the kind of upper middle class family in which we assume the kids will be just fine.  But behind the doors were a relatively absent father and a mother battling her own demons with mental illness. 

He dealt with his family challenges by trying not to draw attention to himself but finding some things that made him feel proud.  Neither a bad nor exceptional student, school provided little guidance.  Michael became a fantastic skateboarder in elementary school and taught himself how to play multiple musical instruments.  By high school, he was pegged as a skateboard slacker, and he increasingly distanced himself from school life.

Moving On … But to What?

By the start of his senior year, Michael had fulfilled all of the graduation requirements and had taken the SAT.  The school granted him permission not to attend school if he enrolled in community college.  Michael moved out of his house and never looked back toward his high school. 

After two years of community college, Michael accompanied one of his friends on a visit to New Mexico State University.  He figured that while he was there, he would talk to someone to find out if he could get in, so he grabbed his SAT report and community college report cards.  

A New Beginning

Upon reviewing the documents Michael had brought, a student advisor asked him, “Did you know you nailed a perfect score on your math SATs?”  He told Michael that he could get scholarships, questioned why he took such low-level math courses at community college, and encouraged him to pursue engineering.

These were new questions and ideas for Michael.  No one had ever explained “placing out” of courses or looked at his SAT scores.  That day, he completed the university placement test well before the allotted time.  

He drove home, packed all his belongings, and cut off 14 inches of hair.  When he stopped by his parents’ house to say goodbye, he responded to their look of shock by declaring, “I’m an engineering student!”  Four weeks later, he had scholarship dollars and was enrolled in advanced math as an engineering student at New Mexico State University.

“Small Wins” in Action

In five minutes’ time, someone noticed a critical detail that not only changed how Michael saw himself, it changed the trajectory of his life.  The student advisor looked beyond the surface at the skateboard slacker, noticed data that revealed mismatches, and saw a boy with extraordinary mathematical talent that had escaped the eyes of many teachers as well as his own parents. 

This story is the inspiration for Chapter 4 and a powerful example of why it is so important to continually watch for the nugget of data that can make all the difference in knowing a child and ensuring they are on the path toward success in school and life.

What happened with Michael came about, in a sense, accidentally – not through the careful observation of a teacher skilled in “kid watching.”  We wrote Chapter 4 to help teachers make such “aha” moments deliberate, and not leave these kinds of life-changing insights to chance.

Tell Us Your Story!

Do you have a story about how “kid watching” really paid off?  How getting to know a student as a learner really made a difference for that student?  What are your strategies for getting to know your students as learners?  Share your experience with us below.

Note from All Kinds of Minds:  Did you hear about our free book giveaway?  Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!  To be entered to win this week, you must subscribe to our blog and share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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Building Schools for All Kinds of Minds

In our recently-published book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds: Boosting Student Success by Embracing Learning Variation, our CEO Mary-Dean Barringer makes the point that Educators, school leaders and policymakers … talk around learning but not about learning,” and she notes that equipping educators with current knowledge from science about how we are wired to learn is essential to the future of education.

But how can educators access this knowledge?  And once they have, how can they translate what they’ve learned into practical solutions in their classrooms, schools, and districts?  Providing answers to these questions is a big part of our work here at All Kinds of Minds.

Schools for All Kinds of Minds

Reading Schools for All Kinds of Minds can be a great first step for educators seeking this expertise.  This book gives school leaders insights, examples, and tools to help them use the All Kinds of Minds approach to transform their classrooms and schools and ultimately help their students learn and thrive.  It highlights schools that have made real progress in building their learning expertise for the benefit of their students and shows educators how taking even small steps can help them meet their long-term goal of ensuring that all students find success.

We invite you to join us on our blog over the next few weeks as the book authors share some ideas and tips from the book as well as personal insights around the book’s content.

Win a Free Book!

But that’s not all.  Each week that we discuss an aspect of Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book!

To be eligible to win a book, you must subscribe to our blog and share your thoughts about the blog entry by posting a comment.

Check back next week for the first Schools for All Kinds of Minds-inspired post.  We look forward to sharing elements of the book with you!

To learn more about Schools for All Kinds of Minds or to read excerpts, visit our website.  Here’s a preview of what you’ll find there:

More than ever, America needs the kinds of minds that generate new perspectives, seek solutions, and discover emerging opportunities. Those are the minds of many of the students in your schools today who, at first glance, look a lot like the struggling student I was in school. I invite you to take a second look at the individuals who walk through your school doors. Join us in helping as many kids as possible become more aware of their unique talents and more confident in their learning abilities—and help us rescue the wonderful potential that may otherwise be lost.

— Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s
(excerpted from the Schools for All Kinds of Minds Foreword)

 

Have you read the book?

If you’ve already read the book, we’d love to hear what you found compelling, how it’s influenced your thinking, or how it’s changed your practice.  Leave a comment below!

Facebook Back-to-School Question of the Week #2

To help get you in the back-to-school spirit – and maybe pick up some great ideas along the way – we recently started a Back-to-School Question of the Week series on Facebook.  This is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts with your virtual colleagues around some key back-to-school questions. We wanted to share some of these responses with our blog readers. 

Check back each week for highlights of the past week’s question and responses.  We hope you’ll join in the conversation by either adding your ideas to our blog or our Facebook page.

Last week’s question: What do you do in the beginning of the school year to create your classroom culture?

Responses:

  • “Create a parent letter to elicit important information about the child. Have children create goals and dreams, then classroom rules that will allow the students to achieve the goals. Create curriculum that is inquiry based. Make sure that there is academic choice for all activities. Morning Meetings a la Responsive Classroom, to include authentic curriculum.”
  • “I created a ‘Do I Know You Well Enough To Teach You’ questionnaire that ask silly, but revealing questions. We talk about what it means to be a Hamptonian” which is what all of my students are called since I am Mrs. (Momma) Hampton. I take pictures of my students when they are reading on the floor, working in writing groups, sitting at their desks, etc. and those pics are displayed on our classroom bulletin board to emphasize the idea that this is our” room, our community. I absolutely ♥ the first week of school and the weeks following.
  • “I adapted the compass points activity from the [All Kinds of Minds] Schools Attuned course… The H.S. students respond well and it starts them thinking and talking about what their learning profile is and what they need to be successful.”  NOTE FROM ALL KINDS OF MINDS: In this activity, participants are asked to identify themselves as North (structure), South (meaning), East (action) and West (caring) and, in small groups, to consider their own learning/working needs as well as the needs of those identifying with other “directions.” A brief discussion follows. This activity results in a set of ground rules for the group.
  • “Aware that she was facing a difficult class, one teacher I know wrote one thing on the whiteboard on the first day: ‘We are all new.’ (and then went into Responsive Classroom mode to get the kids to elaborate on what they thought that meant and what it would mean for them as they participated in creating a learning community in their class.” 

To read more, visit our Facebook page and look for our August 19th entry.  Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a member to view the page!  Or, if you’ve got an idea to share, leave a comment below. 

Pursuing Passionate Interests Can “Spark” Success for Students

Search Institute recently released Teen Voice 2010, a national survey of 1,860 15-year-olds and in-depth interviews with 30 teens, sponsored by the Best Buy Children’s Foundation.  This report caught our attention because it highlights the positive effect of “sparks” – similar to what we at All Kinds of Minds call “affinities” – on teens’ well-being and success in school and beyond.  All Kinds of Minds has been talking about affinities for many years, but this study has done a great job exploring and articulating the value of kids’ pursuit of sparks, or passionate interests. 

The report focuses on three key strengths that influence successful teen development:

  • Sparks
  • Voice (confidence, skills, and opportunities to influence)
  • Relationships

Researchers described “sparks” to survey respondents as “interests or talents you have that you are really passionate about. When you are involved with those sparks, you have joy and energy. You are not bored, and you might lose track of time because you are so involved in what you are doing. A spark is a really important part of your life that gives you a sense of purpose or focus.”

The report explores the teens’ experiences with sparks and the people and places that help sparks grow. In this year’s study – the second of its kind – creative arts, sports, and technology topped the list of sparks.

According to the study, the power of sparks comes when three key elements (comprising the “Sparks Index”) are present:

  • You know your spark(s)
  • Your spark is important (evidenced by what you experience when doing your spark and by the amount of time you spend on it)
  • You take initiative to develop your spark(s)

While 80% of the teens in the survey indicated that they have at least one spark, only about half of them exhibited all three of these key elements. 

We know what you’re thinking: Of course it’s important for kids to identify and develop passionate interests!  But here are some key takeaways that really drive this point home:

  • Teens who exhibit strengths in sparks, voice, and relationships do the best of all on every academic, psychological, social-emotional, and behavioral outcome they studied.
  • Teens who score high on all three elements of the “Sparks Index” are more likely than their peers to work to master what they study, work up to their ability in school, and report having a high GPA.
  • 71% of respondents said pursuing their sparks has helped them to learn new things outside of school, and over half of respondents said that pursuing their sparks had given them new skills that would help them in a career. Thus, schools’ efforts to help students identify and pursue their affinities may be key strategies for boosting achievement as well as college and career readiness.
  • 76% of respondents who have a spark said that other people have “often” encouraged or supported them with their sparks, but only 32% of 15-year-olds “often” get encouragement and support to pursue their sparks from teachers.

Just think about the power teachers have to encourage their students’ pursuit of sparks!  All Kinds of Minds has long encouraged educators to leverage students’ affinities as well as their strengths.  In our recently published book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds, the authors note, “Affinities provide educators with a vehicle for personalizing a student’s educational experience and increasing motivation to engage in learning. Educators throughout the school have the privilege of not only helping students to identify areas of passion but also helping nurture those passions” (page 99).

The possibilities for helping students explore their affinities in the classroom are endless – having students research and give presentations related to their affinities, having students create a blog to write about their affinities, and encouraging students to connect their affinities to broader topics, to name just a few.  To learn more about how schools and parents can nurture children’s strengths and affinities, take a look at this article.

How have you used student affinities to make learning more relevant?  How have your students benefitted?  Share your ideas below, and check out the Teen Voice 2010 report and video!

Facebook Back-to-School Question of the Week

To help get you in the back-to-school spirit – and maybe pick up some great ideas along the way – we recently started a Back-to-School Question of the Week series on Facebook.  This is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts with your virtual colleagues around some key back-to-school questions. 

Our first question of the series, “How do you get to know your new students’ strengths, weaknesses, and affinities?” sparked a lively exchange of great ideas, and we wanted to share some of these responses with you, our blog readers. 

Check back each week for highlights of the past week’s question and responses.  We hope you’ll join in the conversation by either adding your ideas to our blog or our Facebook page.

Last week’s question: How do you get to know your new students’ strengths, weaknesses, and affinities?

Responses:

“Wondering as a parent if I should write up things about my son, that I want his middle school teachers to know about him? Is helpful or just another thing for the teachers with already too much to do?”

“It’s very helpful if you provide that kind of information; I teach middle school and send a survey/questionnaire to parents so I get to know the students better; parents’ input and information is invaluable when it comes to teaching in the classroom!”

“Affinity surveys for our middle schoolers to fill out are a good way to get to know our students. There are many on the web, but can be tailored to fit the needs of individual teachers. Not only obvious questions like those about strengths, needs, affinities, but ones like where in the room do you like to sit? where do you learn best? what kind of learner are you (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc)? Answers to these questions can really tell a teacher volumes about their new students.”

“Let teachers know your child’s learning style. Do they learn through observing, reading, hands on, hearing. Do they need to sit where there are less distractions? Let them know if your child is sensitive to lights, loud noise, smells. If your child has an IEP. Be sure to let them know the best way for you to communicate with them, through notes home, phone calls, email.”

I’m a 1st grade teacher and I have my children bring in treasure bags” filled with 3 items that tell me something about them. I have each child sit next to me as I open their treasure bag and have them share with me and their classmates why they brought each item. I then take a picture of each child with his or her treasures and use them for our September scrapbook.” 

“I teach grade six and I have students fill out a sheet all about me” (this sheet has information on their likes and dislikes as well as information regarding their learning styles from previous multiple intelligence activity). Then … they each have a day designated to them where they bring in various items that help us get to know them and they decorate a small bulletin board in the classroom with these items and their sheet. They present themselves to the class and the bulletin board stays up for a set amount of time …”

“As a parent of two identified children in our system in Ontario I have found writing a letter from the student’s voice to be helpful in letting the teachers know both special interests, fears, areas of strength and weakness. I keep it brief… and I involve my kids because it is their letter to their teacher and their voice is integral to both informing and promoting self-advocacy …”

“One thing I did was ask students, using whatever production style they could best use, (write, draw, tell, perform) their ideal week in school. It gave me a great sense of what they felt they would excel at, their interests and I could infer a great deal of where they might be challenged.”

To read more, visit our Facebook page and look for our August 12th entry.  Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a member to view the page!  Or, if you’ve got an idea to share, leave a comment below.